Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has played some of the best games of his career in the biggest games. Last season's magical season-ending run was a shining example.
But it really all started with the 2009 season opener against the Bears at Lambeau Field, when Rodgers got the critics off his back with what was really his first notable game-winning comeback. It was an early statement that erased an up-and-down first season as a starter in which his inability to get the Packers over the top in the late stages of games in 2008 was really overshadowed by the defense's inability to hold a lead or tie.
Rodgers' biggest statement, however, came in the 2009 playoffs, when during an overtime loss to the Cardinals he put together one of the most prolific quarterbacking performances in NFL playoff history. After an early interception, he threw for 423 yards and four touchdowns on 28-of-42 passing, nearly leading the Packers to a comeback victory after being down by 21 points in the third quarter.
Unbelievably, Rodgers was matched in brilliance that day by his counterpart, Kurt Warner, who finished 29-of-33 for 379 yards and five touchdowns.
For Warner, it was the end. He would retire after the season.
For Rodgers, it was the beginning of his ascent, which, after adjusting to his team's injuries early in the 2010 season, he closed with a bang.
Rodgers was named Super Bowl XLV MVP, going 24-of-39 for 304 yards and three touchdowns against arguably one of the best defenses of all-time.
"A huge part of our game plan was really putting the ball in Aaron Rodgers' hands," coach Mike McCarthy said a day after the 31-25 victory over the Steelers. "He did a great job at the line of scrimmage. A majority of our plays were running/pass option. We were really feeding off of how they were going to play our personnel groups. Aaron's disciplined and was able to throw the ball away when it wasn't there. He didn't take any chances. He just gave me the ability to be aggressive as a play-caller. As a game plan, we were going to put the ball in Aaron's hands, put it on his shoulders, and he knew what he needed to do."
The peak of Rodgers' all-around ability, however, was really on display three weeks earlier when the Packers entered the hostile environment of the Georgia Dome and upset the NFC No. 1 seed, Atlanta. Rodgers' laser-like accuracy (31-of-36 passing), mobility (one rushing TD and avoiding sacks), production (366 passing yards) and cool demeanor under pressure (10-of-10 for 151 yards on third down) left the Falcons frustrated and confused.
Add it all up and in five career postseason games, Rodgers is 4-1 with 13 touchdown passes and three interceptions. His 112.6 passer rating in the playoffs is the best in NFL history — among those with 150 pass attempts — ahead of even Joe Montana and Bart Starr.
Perhaps most defining, the Super Bowl win put Rodgers in an exclusive club of quarterbacks. This season he will look to become just the 11th quarterback to win multiple Super Bowl titles.
Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning — all with Super Bowl titles — fizzled out in the playoffs last season. Philip Rivers and his team failed to qualify. And Ben Roethlisberger, seeking to become just the fifth quarterback to win three Super Bowls, was denied in a head-to-head battle with Rodgers and the Packers' defense.
That, with all things considered, puts Rodgers at the top of the quarterback order in 2011.
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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org